Bad light mars play as Aussies make silly point

Council threatens to sue over publicity stunt for the Ashes tour

Unlike bodyline bowling, the latest controversy in the robust cricketing rivalry between England and Australia is unlikely to cause a major diplomatic incident.

The Australian cricket board will, however, feel the full and rather unthreatening wrath of English local government.

A day ahead of the England team flying down under to begin what seems likely to be a noxiously contested Ashes tour, the Australians took the liberty of projecting a warning on to the side of Westminster clock tower: an image of the Australian captain Ricky Ponting and fellow star batsman Michael Clarke with the message "Don't forget the urn – bring on the Ashes".

Westminster City Council has found itself lacking a sense of humour and is considering taking legal action.

Cricket Australia (formerly the Australian Cricket Board) is taking revenge for a similar marketing ploy by a British broadcaster during England's 2006-07 Ashes tour to Australia, when pictures of Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar were projected on to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The council's curmudgeonly message was delivered by its deputy leader, Robert Davis: "The Palace of Westminster is part of a Unesco World Heritage site, and it's both inappropriate and insulting for this important location and its buildings to effectively be abused in this manner. It is also a criminal offence.

"If an organisation wishes to display advertising on it, or any other building in Westminster for that matter, they should apply through the normal channels like any right-minded person with respect for the law.

"Although we've not prosecuted previously as such stunts are usually over quickly, we do feel enough is enough and we're considering legal action. We also fear that without taking a firm stance this style of guerrilla advertising will increase, particularly in the run-up to 2012 [the London Olympics]."

If prosecuted and found guilty, Cricket Australia would face a £2,500 fine.

Similar stunts have in recent years included general election results being projected on to the tower, which holds Big Ben, as well as pictures of Lily Allen and Prince Harry. The Houses of Parliament have also been adorned with an image of a naked Gail Porter – the act of a men's magazine and exciting passing motorists rather than the municipal authorities.

The Australian cricket team earlier this month lost three test matches in a row for the first time in 20 years, and has been placed under unprecedented pressure ahead of this winter's fixtures. England won the Ashes when it was last contested in the summer of 2009, in an emotional final test which marked Andrew Flintoff's departure from the national team.

Captain Ponting did not seem receptive to striking a note of contrition yesterday, replying to Cllr Davis: "We just wanted to send them a reminder. Bring on the Ashes."

The first Test will begin at The Gabba, Brisbane, on 25 November.

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